Friday, August 30, 2013

Seamus Heaney's Passing

Word came tonight from Ireland that Seamus Heaney died today - our great poet, son of a farmer, sweet Northern Irishman. We lit candles, drank bowls of airag and read his poems aloud in Outer Mongolia - Shane, Eimear and me. I think he might have liked that. Here's my favourite called "Scaffolding": Masons, when they start upon a building,/ Are careful to test out the scaffolding./ Make sure that planks won't slip at busy points,/ Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints./ And yet all this comes down when the job's done/ Showing off walls of sure and solid stone./ So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be/ Old bridges breaking between you and me/ Never fear. We may let the scaffold fall/ Confident that we have built our wall.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Horse Cafe

Slowly but surely getting some photos up. Here's a cute shot from the big horse race day. We sat down in one of the many canopied food stalls to enjoy khusheer (deep fried mutton pancakes)with suutei tsai (milky tea) when a posse of riders drew up to order the same for their lunch and we were surrounded. In a sudden head-staggering loss of brains I went to offer this horse some left-over meat. Doh. Like that herbivore would bite. (Photo credit: Stephanie Ng, but it was my idea)

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Great Book About Mongolia

Just finished reading this in bits and pieces at night before konking out after many a busy day. (Being Rinpoche's attendant is not unlike being part of a travelling road show. Sometimes I am carting about a huge amount of things and I call myself his temee or camel, lol.) Kohn writes of Mongolia, Mongolians and ex-pats in Mongolia with great warmth and humour. He also gives you a galloping whirlwind tour of Mongolian history, geography and politics which is a terrific introduction to the country. Bit outdated, mind you, as he's writing about the early 2000s and the fact is everything changes radically here in the space of a year, i.e. government, economy, landscape (UB is a boom town with buildings going up everywhere in the blink of an eye while the countryside may or may not be affected by extreme weather conditions). Well worth a read whether you are coming here or not. Sometimes laughed out loud he's so funny. Love the joke about Brezhnev, Mao and Tsedenbel. Will tell next time. His website is

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mongolian Panorama

The heart of Mongolia is a vast breathtaking freedom of sky and plain. I spent the day with thousands of riders and their horses racing into the Guinness Book of Records as the largest horse race ever held. Last count I heard was 4,900. I have pics of the race but haven't figured out yet how to access my own camera. Here's a photo from Stephanie, the young volunteer English teacher from Singapore, who was born in Canada (but left when she was one year old, though she sounds Canadian to me nonetheless!), i.e. she's teaching English to Mongolian children, young adults and monks for ASRAL. After the horse race our driver Naranbold took us to his family ger up in the hills. (click on the pic and you'll get a better view) And if you want to see me in Mongolian dress switch over to my regular blog. There you will see from where the Star Wars costume designer swiped Queen Amidala's head-gear! (Photo credit: Stephanie Ng)

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Journey of a Lifetime

We were brought from the airport (see pic on Blog) directly to Lam Rim Monastery in Ulaan Baator, where my lama - Panchen Otrul Rinpoche - was given a mighty welcome with conches blowing, yellow hats, parasols and crowds of monks and lay people. I didn't move fast enough to get behind him and so ended up squashed to death in the good-natured crowd trying to get into the temple. Luckily I had Rinpoche's bag with me so I held it in front of me like a relic and kept saying "ootch la reh (phonetic 'excuse me' in Mongolian) Rinpoche bag" and they kept squeezing me through the press of bodies until I was literally spat out into the temple. Rinpoche was sitting up on a high throne and saw me ejected from the crowd and burst out laughing. I was laughing too. Apparently he told his monks to go find me but I got there first. Now in the first photo here you see us having lunch in a ger - Mongolian tent, do not call it a yurt which is a Russian word, they are a proud people and now free from Russia - with Rinpoche in the place of honour. As his attendant, I am always placed near him. How cool is that? Honestly, I keep pinching myself to be sure this is real. The second picture shows a ger from the outside. This is a traditional Mongolian home, easy to pack up and move on a wagon or horse or camel or yak. Sadly the nomadic herders have been coming in thousands to the city as the bad winters (tsud) have been killing their livestock. These shanty towns or ger cities lack basic amenities like electricity and water, schools, hospitals etc My lama's charity ASRAL ("care" in Mongolian) strives to help these people, especially the children, with hot meals, clothes, health clinics, educational programmes and so on. I am proud to be assisting him in this work. (Photo credit: Ueli Minder)

Sunday, August 04, 2013


I meant to post about my trip earlier than this but I was in the last stages of final proofs for my new book out at the end of the year. (See below.) Also was using spare time to take Mongolian language lessons online thanks to youtube (they work, I'm gabbing away here and people can actually understand what I'm saying!). Also viewed videos and read books. So quick headlines: I am travelling as the attendant of a high Tibetan lama (see who comes every year to Mongolia to oversee his monasteries and his charities (ASRAL, an NGO). I am also taking notes, of course, for my next book which will be a work of non-fiction about this lama and my travels with him to India and Outer Mongolia (Inner Mongolia is ruled by the Chinese, while Outer Mongolia is free and independent now that the Russians have scarpered). I can hardly describe my experiences, they are so overwhelming. I feel at times as if I am in the middle of a National Geographic adventure documentary. I keep thinking "is this really me here, sitting at this table to the right of the lama in a ger [Mongolian tent] surrounded by Chinghis Khan's people all smiling away at me?" I have to say - and this is the truth - it feels strangely like home!